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Old September 20, 2003, 10:34 PM
Dien Rice
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Default Four Of The World's Richest People To Learn From

Hi Joe,

I consider myself a student of Warren Buffett (#2 on the Forbes 400 list) as well. His investment approach does work, in the long term.

When you study him, though, keep in mind that in his earlier days, he also made profits by investing other people's money. He'd hold parties at his house, and invite around doctors, lawyers, and other rich people. They'd invest their money with him (through limited partnerships he set up).

He would invest the money in stocks, and then he would take 25% of the profits he made for them above the 6% the investors could have made by putting their money in a savings account. You can read all the details of how he did this in "Buffettology" by Mary Buffett and David Clark, Chapter 45, "How Warren Got Started: The Investment Vehicle".

You don't get the full picture of how Buffett made his wealth unless you also learn about this part of his life.

I've also studied to some degree Kirk Kerkorian (currently #33 on the Forbes list). He's the closest high-flier I've been able to find who got his start essentially by trading second-hand property! Though, he was at the right place at the right time.

As a teenager, Kirk Kerkorian used to buy and sell second-hand cars. He worked at a second-hand car dealership, and was able to buy some of these second-hand cars cheaply from his workplace. He'd take them home, fix 'em up, then resell them for a profit.

Soon after, Kerkorian trained to be a pilot. In WWII, Kerkorian was a civilian pilot for the British air force. He flew planes from Canada to the UK (so he didn't actually see any combat).

After WWII, you could get planes from the US Air Force quite cheaply, and Kerkorian bought many of these to resell, and also used some of these planes for his own charter plane service. In many ways, it wasn't too different from what he used to do with cars, but now he was dealing with planes!

Nowadays, he's probably most famous for owning MGM, and for having been one of the major owners in Chrysler before it got taken over by Daimler-Benz. (He has a current court case related to the takeover against Daimler-Chrysler - the company that emerged after Daimler-Benz took over Chrysler.)

For the direct-response marketers among us, the world's richest direct-response marketer is on the list too. That's Michael Dell (#10 on the list), the founder of Dell computers.

The story is that he started by putting together computers and selling them out of his dorm room while he was still a university student! Small starts can lead to great things, when you're at the beginning of a big trend (as he was).

And, of course, we then come to my personal favorite. He's not on the Forbes list - but he shares a lot of interesting lessons. That's Gordon Gekko - from the movie Wall Street!

"I don't throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun-tzu, The Art of War. Every battle is won before it is ever fought." - Gordon Gekko

This is the way those who really make money do it. While insider trading (which was in the movie Wall Street) is illegal, you have to learn how to legally "bet on sure things". Or at least, bet on things where the odds are in your favor.

That's all Warren Buffett does. That's what Kirk Kerkorian does. You could even say that any kind of direct response marketing is simply betting on sure things, once you've gone past the testing stage. This is the key to it all.

The wealthy don't really gamble their fortunes, but they do take calculated risks. If you're not ready to take any risks, you're not ready to get rich. But they have to be calculated risks - so the odds are in your favor.

When you take calculated risks, you won't win every time. But you'll win on average - and that's all you need to win in the long run.

- Dien Rice

The Forbes 400: The Richest People In America